Education Evolutions #86

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Fortunately, I feel back on track a bit more, so sitting down to compose this was a welcome return to the routine. Plus, I was lucky enough to pretty well wrap up the semester last week with very few items carrying over into the new semester that begins tomorrow. Just a couple of makeup items and the book can be closed completely on the fall term.

Good luck to everyone embarking on a new semester as well. It really will be pretty new for me as I am likely to have more new students than returning ones. So for anyone else in that situation – good luck.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. We are really living in interesting times and there has to be a reckoning with our digital selves. Using the cholera battle in London as a way into the situation we find ourselves in with the Internet and social media provides a pretty solid starting comparison. It is the longest piece this week but definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Hope everyone has a great start to the new term.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

5 Strategies to Demystify the Learning Process for Struggling Students – KQED’s MindShift – Deborah Farmer Kris (5-minute read)

If you have never heard of Barbara Oakley, she is someone whose work is worth getting to know a bit more. What I like about her work is that she recognizes the complexity of the learning process but also manages to provide some simpler frames that can be helpful. I am often frustrated by simplifications but, for some reason, hers do not seem to bother me quite as much. I think it might be because they seem so practical and almost more taxonomical, But I am not entirely sure.

This list is a pretty good starting point and a number of these strategies are things a lot of teachers almost do intuitively. Yet labeling as they are in this brief article provides some names that can be useful, especially when sharing this kind of meta-knowledge with students.

I certainly am a huge advocate of metaphor. It might have something to do with why I became an English teacher, although I have long believed that humans are metaphor machines. It is one of the things that makes me so leery of out of control AI. Items one and two in this list will likely not really be new to anyone but the metaphor of the racecar and hiker brain might be a slightly new spin on a not so new idea. The embedded TEDTalk is worth watching too for some deeper explanation, if you have the time.

An effortless way to improve your memory – BBC Future – David Robson (7-minute read)

This is a fascinating follow-up article for the one above. The “effortless way” being quiet contemplation should not come as a surprise to anyone, really. Certainly, this is one significant reason, although far from the only one, for the rise in mindfulness in academic institutions. What is more surprising is how far back the actual research goes revealing just how effective 10-15 minutes of mental rest can be.

So for over a hundred years, Westerners have had some quantitative and qualitative proof that it is a good idea. Yet, it has not even come close to slowing down the more-better-faster mantra that munches on education environments. This piece reminds me of many of the studies that show what seem to be almost miraculous health benefits associated with an extra hour of sleep (Here is the BBC on that too).

I have to admit that reading this gave me something to consider building into certain class days that are heavy with a lot of new information. Forcing myself to wrap up a pinch earlier and maybe flipping the lights and coaching students into a short episode of quiet contemplation might be something I try out in the near future.

The World Is Choking on Digital Pollution – Washington Monthly – Judy Estrin and Sam Gill (17-minute read)

This is a strong and sobering look at the challenges regarding the convergence of the digital and analog worlds before us. The line between what we have traditionally referred to as virtual and real has become increasingly blurred over the last decade in particular. I am reminded of an article that I could not seem to find again that used the Pokemon Go phenomenon a few years ago to reframe smartphones not as screens but as windows – windows into a new reality.

One of the issues with this new reality is that the more it expands the more our it is being shaped by the corporations making the hardware and software that shapes that new reality. One of the best line of this piece sums it up pretty succinctly, “The problem is that, given their pervasive role, these companies’ values come to govern all of our lives without our input or consent.”

Framing the whole challenge as a pollution problem is helpful and insightful. There are so few metaphors that work well in trying to make sense of the kind of convergence we have been experiencing at warp speed. What I like best about this piece is the balance and care taken to not be alarmist or draconian. As the authors put it, “we aren’t machines; we can ask why. We must confront how these technologies work, and evaluate the consequences and costs for us and other parts of our society.” Extremely thought-provoking stuff.

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